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‘Direct Cash Transfers to Women from September’: Atishi on AAP Govt’s Mahila Samman Yojana – News18

The Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP government presented its 10th and final budget ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, as well as the Delhi assembly elections.

News18 spoke to finance minister Atishi Singh, who presented her first budget. Estimated at Rs 76,000 crore, the highlight was its branding in the name of Ram and direct cash transfers for women aged above 18.

Excerpts from an interview:

The announcement that has caught everybody’s attention is the Mukhya Mantri Mahila Samman Yojana. You have promised Rs 1,000 to every woman above the age of 18 in Delhi and your estimate is that 50 lakh women will benefit from this. What is your thought behind this?

One thing that you have to understand is that in the nine years of the Arvind Kejriwal-led government, multiple steps have been taken in the interest of women. And it is not just the pink ticket for women that has helped them step out of their homes [they’ve taken 150 crore free trips in the last five years]. The fact is that the improvement of government schools has helped girl students the most. The fact that mohalla clinics have been free of cost helps women the most. The fact that free tirth yatra is available helps elderly women the most.

The fact is that the Arvind Kejriwal-led government has always put the needs of women over and above everyone. But the thing is, at the end of the day, what is the biggest source of empowerment? It is actually money in your pocket, and this is what can actually make women decision makers in their own families. The fact of the matter is that it is the reality of our country. Women are not decision makers because they don’t control the finances of their homes.

Now, for the first time, women will independently get their own money and, that too, every month. Not only can they take care of their personal needs, but if they want anything for their family or children, they don’t have to ask for money.

You allocated Rs 2,000 crore for this yesterday. But, a simple ballpoint calculation shows that it is much more. Does the government have the resources?

This government is the only one in the country that gives free electricity, water, bus tickets, high-quality education in government schools, healthcare in secondary and tertiary [hospitals]. It is still the only government that does not have a fiscal deficit. It is the only government, which, for the past eight years, has had a fiscal surplus. Why? Because we are an honest government, we are able to increase our revenues. We are well-managed and can run the government effectively and efficiently within the resources that we have.

So, obviously, when we have made this promise, it is based on our calculations. This year, because the scheme will get implemented with the transfers starting from September, we have kept the allocation as Rs 2,000 crore. But, yes, we have also made arrangements for the fact that from the next financial year, approximately Rs 6,000 crore will be needed. We have made the calculations and ensured that the money is available.

I am sure that you have seen the chief minister’s post on X this morning. He has made a direct appeal to women to support him in the upcoming elections. Why do you feel that there is a need for that?

The problem is while the people support the AAP government, Arvind Kejriwal and vote for him to become chief minister with heavy numbers, the seven MPs who win from Delhi have always been from the BJP. And, every time that the central government or the L-G takes steps that worsen people’s lives in Delhi, they sit there, laugh and clap in Parliament. Is it not their job to fight for the people of Delhi? Should they not stand up when the L-G stops CCTV cameras? Should they not stand up when the Delhi Jal Board does not get its funds? Should they not stand up when the one-time settlement of water bills is stopped by officers and the office of the L-G?

This is why Arvind Kejriwal has made an appeal to the people of Delhi, that if the 7 MPs are elected from the INDIA bloc, then the people of Delhi will get strength, their voice amplified and reach Parliament. And this daily struggle, where work gets stopped, schemes get stalled will definitely come to a halt.

So, clearly the AAP believes that this one announcement is going to be a game-changer in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

The people of Delhi support AAP and Arvind Kejriwal. They have seen Arvind Kejriwal’s honesty and they believe he has delivered on his promises. Not just that, he has also delivered on much more. So, when Arvind Kejriwal wants the support of the people of Delhi for parliamentary elections to strengthen his hands, I am sure the people of Delhi will come out and support him.

Your budget has references to Ram, Ramcharitmanas, dohas from Ramcharitmanas and Ramrajya. It ran like a thread from the beginning of your speech to the end. Why did you feel that you had to brand your budget in this manner?

Well, Ramayana and the life of Lord Ram really shows that you have to run your government in the interest of the last person. In fact, that is the theme of the Ramcharitmanas and Ramrajya – no one will be poor, no one will be in need of help and everyone will be taken care of. That really is the leitmotif by which the Arvind Kejriwal-led government has run for the past nine years. We have put the needs of the poor and the downtrodden before anyone else. We have put infrastructure development in JJ clusters and unauthorised colonies as one of our priorities. We have put education of children in government schools, especially those from poor or lower middle class families, as our priority. We have put the healthcare of people, who otherwise won’t have gone to a doctor, by giving them mohalla clinics. We have put that as our priority. This is not the leitmotif of just our budget, it is the motif by which we have been running our government for the last nine years.

The BJP has targeted AAP by calling Arvind Kejriwal a “chunavi” Hindu, who plays an obvious Hindu card when it comes to elections. The saffron party also says the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya was part of their agenda for years. How would you respond to that? Is the fear of losing support driving the AAP, like some other parties, to embrace Ram?

I think it is ironic that the BJP that asks for votes in the name of religion based on religious activities is accusing us of being chunavi Hindus. Chunav ke liye Hindu dharm ke naam par toh BJP vote maangti hai. Hum chunav ke pehle, chunav ke dauraan, chunav ke baad bhi Hindu hain, uss dharm ko maante hain, Bhagwan Shri Ram ke raste par chalte hain. But, we don’t need to ask for votes based on the religion we practice in our homes. We ask for votes on the basis of the work we have done. We ask for votes on the basis of the schools we have built. We ask for votes on the basis of hospitals we have built. We ask for votes in the name of provimg infrastructure in unauthorised colonies. Does the BJP do that?

The finance portfolio was thrust upon you after Kailash Gahlot held it briefly following Manish Sisodia’s arrest. You are still young. What are the challenges that you faced while preparing the budget?

Why just me as the finance minister? In fact, probably our government and our party is one of the youngest across the national political spectrum. You have a lot of party leaders in their 40s and in senior positions. And, I think all credit for that goes to Arvind Kejriwal who has always promoted people on the basis of their talent, on the basis of their merit and really put his trust in a lot of people. A lot of people, young people, fresh people, even if you look at our cabinet, if you look at our Rajya Sabha members, their profile is probably much younger than any other political party.

You are one of the key negotiators of your party when it comes to hammering a seat-sharing pact with the Congress, and you have reached an agreement. What are your expectations? To what extent, do you think it will help you and the Congress?

I think it will help both the Congress and the AAP. It is going to help the country as a whole. I think the biggest challenge in front of the country, right now, is regarding how institutions are being torn apart; how basically all constitutional norms are being torn apart. The alliance has come together not just for the victory of one political party or another, but to save the Constitution and institutions of this country.

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